THE NAME VERMONT Joseph-Andre Senecal
Published in LINKS, The Journal of the Vermont French Canadian Genealogical Society. Vol I No. I (Fall 1996)
The first documented use of the word Vermont is dated April 11, 1777. On that day, in Philadelphia, Thomas Young addressed a broadside "To the Inhabitants of Vermont, a Free and Independent State."  All evidence points to Young as the originator of the word Vermont, a translation of the English Green Mountains. Young's purpose was probably to honor, in a thinly disguised manner, the bombastic Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.
Almost all modern historians have accepted the comments of early authorities who associated the word Vermont with France's colonial presence in the Champlain Valley. One of the earliest texts to make the association is Zadock Thompson's History of Vermont (1842). Thompson comments that the name "Verd Mont" had been applied long before the claimed christening of the state as "Verd Mont" by Reverend Hugh Peters in 1763. One will remember that the earliest European visitor to the state was Samuel de Champlain, who named the lake after himself (1609). He was followed by numerous missionaries, traders, settlers and soldiers who identified rivers and other physical features of the Champlain watershed. Among the many such christenings, let us mention the original European appropriation of what is now Lake George (Lac Saint-Sacrement) by the missionary Isaac Jogues in 1645. Pierre Lamotte de Saint-Paul was the first to erect a fort in Vermont, on the island which still bears his name. The French left many traces of their presence in the toponymy of Vermont but Vermont is simply not one of them.
The word Vermont is not in any historical way connected with the French presence in the Green Mountain State before 1760. No document (map, travel journal, official correspondence) from the period refers to the Green Mountains or the region as Vermont (or Vertmont, Vertsmonts, les Monts Verts, Verdmont), or alternate meanings such as Versmont (i.e., vers les monts: towards the mountains).
The evidence from the days of New France (or rather the lack of it) suggests that Green Mountains is not a translation of Vermont but rather that it is the French word which is a translation. Where did the original name of Green Mountains come from? The dating of the earliest mention of these words might provide some hints. To help us in this endeavor we can summon three types of evidence: the earliest appearance of the words Green Mountains on a map; the earliest references to the words in written documents; contemporary (1749-1770) allusions to an oral tradition. An inventory of early cartography (1749-1778), from the earliest map showing English settlements in what is now southern Vermont to the first map displaying the words "State of Vermont,"  reveals that the very first map showing "Green Mountains" dates from 1778. The first edition of Bernard Romans' A Chorographical Map of the Northern Department of North-America [...} clearly delineates a mountain range with hachures and labels its southern end (diagonally, from Wallingford to Bennington) as the "Green Mountains." The designation "State of Vermont" also appears for the first time on Romans' 1778 map (along with a partisan text on behalf of the Lone Republic which salutes its inhabitants as rightful owners "by the triple title of honest purchase, of industry in settling, and now, lately, that of conquest"). The 1779 edition of Claude Joseph Sauthier's A Chorographical Map of the Province of New York [...] is the first one to extend the label "Green Mountains" to the entire north-south spine of the range, from Canada to Massachusetts. It is significant that earlier maps by Sauthier (1776, 1777, 1778) bear no label for the mountain range." Equally eloquent is the fact that prior to 1780, no map based on the surveys or compilations of Samuel Blanchard and Joseph Langdon, Thomas Jefferys, J. Green, William Brasier or John Montresor identifies mountain ranges in the state or include the labels "Vermont" or "Green Mountains." As with French cartographic documents from the times of New France, maps from the British Regime identify few physiographic features. With rare exceptions, only Lake Champlain and major waterways such as the Winooski or the Otter Rivers are labeled. The earliest identification of mountains (1677) in the area designates the White "Hills" of northern New Hampshire.  For Vermont, the first mountainous features to be graced with a name are the Halfway Hill in the township of Killington (1755) and Mount Ascutney (1774). If all this information is the final evidence, then the first cartographic record of Green Mountains postdates the first written documentation by six years.
The available written evidence reveals that the earliest mentions of the Green Mountains are associated with the appearance of the Green Mountain Boys in the summer of 1772. In a text published in the Connecticut Courant, "An Encomium on his Excellency Governor Tryon and his Majesty's Honourable Council of the Province of New York," a text presumed to have been written by Ethan Allen, one reads the earliest known reference to the Green Mountains: "[...] and Capt. Warner's Company of Green Mountain Boys under arms, fired three vollies of small arms, in concert and aid of the glory." The term "Green Mountain Boys" was brand-new in August 1772. In the summer of 1770, after the June 28 rebuff of the New Hampshire grantees by the Court of Albany County. Ethan and others began to act as bands of armed men. As late as the summer of 1771 these various roving gangs of vigilantes were identifying themselves as "New Hampshire Men." It is only in the spring of 1772 that the most violent elements of resistance began to call themselves Green Mountain Boys. As rumors circulated that 'Governor Tryon of New York was marching toward Bennington with troops, the committees of safety in and around Bennington began to collaborate more closely and more openly with the most aggressive agents associated with Seth Warner, Ethan, Remember Baker and others. These elements were now calling themselves Green Mountain Boys. In June, news of the Governor arrived, not in the form of an invading army, but in the guise of a conciliatory letter. It is to that development and the rejoicing which it unleashed in Bennington that we owe the encomium (an expression of enthusiastic praise) published in the Hartford Courant. We must assume that the term Green Mountains predates the rise of the Green Mountain Boys. But by how many years? If one remembers that in 1760, English settlers in Vermont numbered no more than 300, it is unlikely that such a small, dispersed colony had already appropriated its physiography to the degree of identifying and naming the Vermont section of Appalachia or, for that matter, any mountain range. If the designation Green Mountains originated in the 1760s, it must have taken some time to impose itself. Therefore it is likely that the term Green Mountains became common a few years before the Green Mountain Boys began to create their mythology, that is, in the late 1760s. A potent argument: no written mention of the Green Mountains can be found before 1772 in the hundreds of documents which have come down to us. The two words simply do not appear in the landgrants of New Hampshire or New York, nor in any official correspondence dealing with the New York/New Hampshire controversy.
Oral tradition from the earliest days of English settlement could help us in tracing the origin of Green Mountains or in refining the date of its earliest use. That testimony would have come down to us in written form and would be subject to great caution. Such evidence is most rare. Late (in 1793) we find the following startling lesson of geography from Ira : "The Green Mountains begin in Canada near the Bay of Chaleur, and one branch runs through Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and ends near New Haven." We can uncover no evidence to buttress Allens appelation nor does the toponymy of Connecticut or western Massachusetts (at least the written evidence, ancient and contemporary) suggests a basis for such a mental geography. The work of Arthur Hughes lists several Green Mountain and Green Hill, most associated with landmarks in northwestern Connecticut where the Allens and many of the earliest settlers of southern Vermont grew up. However, none of these appelations refers to a mountain range or smaller features which would extend past the confines of one locality. No mountain range in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ever bore the name Green Mountains. At best the comment of Ira Allen suggests that settlers from Connecticut imported the term Green Mountains and that they were aware of a north/south mountain range. It does not allow us to refine the date or the circumstances of the christening of the Green Mountains.
Based on a review of the available evidence we can advance with some degree of confidence that the word Vermont is indeed a translation of Green Mountains, and that most likely it comes from the fertile mind of Thomas Young, a self-made scholar who probably knew some French. The ultimate question might be why did Young write Vermont rather than Montagues Vertes or Vertsmonts! In other words: Is Vermont good French? The answer is yes. Archaic but excellent French. In the language of France as in English, two words compete to designate mountains: mont and montagne (mount and mountain). The words come from the Latin mons/montis and montanea. In French mont is much older than montagne. The word is documented as early as 1080 and figures prominently in the epic Song of Roland: "Roland reguardet es munz e es lariz" (Roland scans the mountains and the hills). However, by the 1700s, mont had clearly lost out to montagne. This has remained true to this day. Except for writing poetry and geographic naming (such as Outremont) we seldom call upon mont in modem French. Even in 1777, mont was archaic. However, its use in place naming was well established and carried an aura of antiquity.
Grammatically, the word order (adjective + noun: vert + mont) and the fusion of the adjective and the noun are perfectly correct. In modem French, one would say in a normal enunciation: les monts verts. However the creation of Young is probably not inspired by modern French, even the modern French of 1777. Above all, grammatically speaking, it is not part of a sentence. The word answers the special rules of geographical naming. In the creation of place names one often finds the adjective before the noun and the adjective fused to the noun. For examples: Beaumont, Belmont or, more to the point, Rougemont.In some cases, one or more letters (such as the final consonant) may disappear. The spelling ver for vert is well documented. Dauzat verifies a Verfeil (for Verte Feuille); also Verdaches, Verdon, Verdets. In the mountainous regions of Alsace, one will even discover a Vermont. However, etymologically speaking, the Vermont of Eastern France does not come from Vert Mont but from Louver Mont (Wolf Mountain).
Vermont was almost named New Connecticut. Instead, like Maine, the Green Mountain State bears a decidedly Gallic name not to underline the French presence in those parts once claimed by Louis XIV or XV but because English minds in their appropriation of the world (at least the Atlantic World) sometimes resorted to historical antecedents stamped with the fleur-de-lys. In the case of Maine, no one has been able to explain why the region bears the name of a French province. Likewise, who can explain why Green Mountains was translated into Vermont? Because of the francophilia of Young or Ethan Allen? For whatever reason. It matters little to us Franco-Vermonters. It is enough that the quirks of history announced our coming to this state and the significant contribution which we have made to its welfare and progress.
The text is reproduced, with a brief introduction from Marilyn S. Blackwell, in
A More Perfect Union.
See in particular Thomas Chittenden, Ethan Allen , and Joseph Fay's petition to
the General Assembly, "For a Grant of Land to the Family of One of the Founders
of the State," dated 20 October 1786, in State
3. See Zadock Thompson, History of Vermont (Burlington: s. ed., 1842): 8. Much earlier, in 1798, Ira Allen had observed that the state had "obtained its name from the French word Verdmont." See The Natural and Political History of the State of Vermont, One of the United States of America (London: J. W. Myers, 1798) 259 Soon afterwards, several sources echoed the testimony of Allen. For example a London geography book dating from 1808 explains that "the people had for a long time no other name than Green Mountain Boys, which they Gallicised into Verdmont, and afterwards corrupted into the easier pronunciation of Vermont." [Quoted in "Description of Vermont," The Burlington Free Press (August 4 1859)-  (We thank our colleague, Susan Whitebook for bringing this last item to our attention).] A final example Hall's Outlines of the Geography, Natural and Civil History of Vermont (Montpelier: C. W. Willard 1864)- 14, maintains that "the name Verd Mont was applied by those who early visited it. The most outrageous exposition of the French colonial origin of the word Vermont was no doubt supplied by one Alexander B. R. Drysdale in his fatuous Bennington's Book, Being The Complete Chronicle of a New England Village with Various Digressions and Dissertations on Life Which Should Prove of Great Benefit to All Men (Troy: Troy Times Art Press, 1927). Drysdale not only attributes the region's name to the French but identifies one Napoleon Grandison (Pierre Radisson?) as the originator of "Vert-terre." Later amended by Samuel de Champlain to "Vermont." Drysdale's piece combines the racialist views of the eugenic elite of Vermont in mid-century with the type of condescending humor which one can still find in certain strata of the state's genteel intelligentsia. Referring to his Napoleon Grandison as "Polie," Drysdale delights his audience with considerations such as these: "The woods in Polie's case had of course been there longer than he had but he had never noticed them before and began to examine them with interest, and, therefore, in the natural course of events and reasoning realized that they were green. At this startling registry in his none too active cerebellum he exclaimed as any Frenchman would upon seeing green, 'Vert.' Ever after he referred to that section of the wilderness which is our state as 'Vert-terre,' or Greenland, and by that name it was referred to by a majority of the population of Quebec" (p. 20). Much later, according to Drysdale, Champlain "a debonair French noble, roue, egotist" came to Quebec and hired Grandison who led him to Lake Champlain. After naming the lake after himself, "the Marquis of Champlain became aware that there were mountains around him and mumbled to himself in French, 'monts.' Then realizing, as Polie had done several years before, that they were green, he exclaimed aloud 'Vermont,' and the entire party were amazed and repeated after him, 'Vermont' (p. 20)." Given the mendacious propensity of the Reverend Hugh Peters, one should reject the claim, made much after 1777, that, in an elaborate ceremony which would have been performed on Mount Pisgah (Killington) in 1763, he christened the state "Verd-Mont." See H. N. Nicholas Muller, "The Name of Vermont: An Afterword," Vermont History, 41: 1 (Winter 1973): 80-81.
4. For more details on the actors from the French Regime and their role in the exploration, naming and early settlement of Vermont see Guy Omeron Coolidge, The French Occupation of the Champlain Valley from 1609 to 1759 (Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 1938), (Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, new series, vol. 6, no. 3). A second edition is available: (Mamaroneck: Harbor Hill Books, 1989).
5. The word Vermont or other renderings do not appear in the official correspondence between the intendant or the governor of New France and the colonial authorities in Versailles and elsewhere in France. For a calendar of those documents see the appropriate annual Report of the Public Archives of Canada. France, Archives des colonies, Serie B: Lettres envoyees [Orders of the King and dispatches] in Supplement 1899. 245-548; 1904, Appendix K: 1-312; and 1905, vol. 1, part 6: 1-446. Also, Serie C11A: Correspondance generale, Canada [General Correspondence, Canada] in 1885: xxix-lxxix; 1886. xxxix-cl; and 1887: cxl-ccxxxix. Other allusions to the area which is now Vermont can be found in Serie C11E: Des limites et des postes [North America-New France, Boundary Regulations], in 1887: cclxiii-cclxxxii; in Serie D2C: Troupes des colonies [Colonies: Civil and Military Officers] in 1905, vol. 1, part 6, pp. 508-516; Serie F3: in Collection Moreau de Saint-Mery, in Supplement 1899: 9-191 and 1905, vol. 1, part 6: 447-507; in Depot des fortifications des colonies, in 7905, vol 1, part 3: 1-44. Consult also the Ordonnances, commissions, etc., etc., des gouvemeurs et intendants de la Nouvelle France, 1629-1706 (Beauceville: L'Eclaireur, 1924) and Inventaire des ordonnances des intendants de la Nouvelie-France (1705-1760) conservees aux Archives provinciales de Quebec (Beauceville: L'Eclaireur, 1919); the Inventaire des proces-verbaux des grands voyers conserves aux Archives de la Province de Quebec (Beauceville: L'Eclaireur, 1923); the Inventaire des concessions en fief et seignenries, fois et hommages el aveux ef denombrements conserves aux Archives de la Province de Quebec (Beauceville: L'Eclaireur, 1927-1929); and the De Lery papers, Inventaire des papiers de Lery conserves aux Archives de la Province de Quebec (Quebec: s.n., 1939-1940). The word is not to be found in the Voyages of Champlain, the documentation of the presence of the Carignan-Sallieres Regiment in the Richelieu-Champlain area (notably the Livre de raison de Francois de Tapie de Monteil, capitaine au regiment de Poitou, the Vers burlesques sur Ie voyage de Monsieur de Courcelles [...]; the Memoire de M. De Salieres des choses qui se sont passees en Canada, les plus considerables depuis qu'il est arrive, 1666, and Dollier de Casson's Histoire de Montreal), and various journals and reports of military officers from the Seven Years War such as the journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville published in translation as Adventure in the Wilderness. The word is also absent from the Jesuits' Relations, their journals, and other documents which mention the Champlain Valley or the rest of the state, notably the Voyages of Louis Franquet and the various papers of de Lery, the King's Engineer in New France.
6. The first English settlement in Vermont dates from 1724 (Fort Dummer near present day Brattleboro). However historians note no significant occupation until 1749 when Governor Wenworth made his first grant (Bennington).
7. The first map to show English settlements in present-day Vermont is a plan of Williamstown and Adams. Massachusetts, along with several townships in Vermont (Bennington, Earlington, Glastonbury, Pownal, Sanford, Shaftsbury, Starton, Sunderland and Woodford). The plan was drawn by Nathaniel Dwight in November 1749.
8. A Chorographical Map of the Northern Department of North America, Drawn From the Latest And Most Accurate Observations (New Haven: circa 1778). A Dutch edition , almost an exact facsimile of the 1778 original, appeared in 1780 (Amsterdam: Mortier, & Covens junior).
9. The inset "The Townships, or Grants East of Lake Champlain [...]" appears in the upper left-hand comer of the map.
10. A Chorographical Map of the Province of New York in North America. Divided Into Counties, Manors, Patents and Townships [...] (London: William Faden, 1779). The range is labeled twice. The most southerly notation follows the spine of a clearly delineated mountain range up to the township of Ludlow. The second label (in bigger type but otherwise identical), can be seen more to the west. The lettering stretches from Rutland to the Winooski River ("Onion R.").
11. "A Chorographical Map of the Province of New York, Divided Into Counties, Manors, Patents and
Townships," in Thomas Jefferys, The American Atlas (London: R. Sayer & J. Bennet, 1776). "A Topographical Map of Hudson's River, With Channels, Depth of Water, Rocks, Shoals, & c. And the
Country Adjacent, From Sandy Hook, New York and Bay of Fort Edward, Also the Communication With Canada by Lake George And Lake Champlain as High as Fort Chambly on Sorel River," in William Faden, The North American Atlas (London: 1776). A Map of the Provinces of New York and New Jersey, With a Part of Pennsylvania And the Province of Quebec From the Topographical Observations of C.J. Sauthier (Augsburg: Mathew Albert Letter, 1777). Mappa Geographica provinciae novae eboraci ab Anglis New York dictae ex ampliori delineations ad exactus dimensiones concinnata in arctius spatium redacta cura Claudie Joseph! Sauthier cut accedit Nova Jersey ex topographicis observationibus (Nuremberg: Homann, 1778).
12. Samuel Langdon, An Accurate Map of His Majesty's Province of New Hampshire (London: 1756).
Joseph Blanchard and Samuel Langdon, An
Accurate Map of His Majesty's Province of New Hampshire in New England, Taken
From Actual Surveys of All the Inhabited Parts, And From The Best Information
of What Is Uninhabited, Together With The Adjacent Countries Which Exhibits The
Theater of This War in That Part of the World ([London]: 1761). J. Green.
"A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England
13. French maps, especially after the survey of Jean-Eustache Lanoullier de Boisclerc in 1739 (See "Pointe a la Chevelure1739," Archives nationales du Quebec: B-950) and the 1752 map of Louis Franquet ("Carte du Lac Champlain depuis le fort de Chambly jusqu'a la chute des eaux du Lac St Sacrement"), also identify islands in Lake Champlain and peninsulae, labeled invariably as Pointe a ...: Pointe a Baron, Pointe au Canot, etc. Hills, when noted (this practice is quite rare) are labeled with the generic "Montagnes."
The map made to accompany William Hubbard's A Narrative of the Troubles With
the Indians in New
For the first mention of Halfway Hill, see J. Green, A map of the most inhabited
part of New England,
The text is quoted in Ethan Allen. A Brief Narrative of the Proceedings of
the Government of New York Relative to Their Obtaining the Jurisdiction of That
Large District of Land, to the Westward from
The best contemporary (1996) account of the emergence of the Green Mountain Boys
can be found in Robert E. Shalhope, Bennington and the Green Mountain Boys,
The Emergence of Liberal Democracy in
18. See in particular the Vol. 26 of the State Papers of New Hampshire, and Vol. VII of the State Papers of Vermont: New York Land Patents, 1688-1786: Covering land Now Included in the State of Vermont [...]. (Montpelier: Office of the Secretary of State, 1947). Many of the documents can be found in Vol. 4 of The Documentary History of the State of New York, Edmund B. O'Callaghan, comp. (Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1851). See also Vol. 1 of Collections of the Vermont Historical Society (Montpelier: 1870); Memoir of Colonel Seth Warner, Daniel Chipman, ed. (Middlebury: L. W. dark, 1848); and Vermont State Papers, Being a Collection of Records and Documents Connected with the Assumption and Establishment of Government by the People of Vermont [...], William Slade, ed. (Middlebury: J.W. Copeland, 1823).
Ira Allen, The Natural and Political History of the State of Vermont. One of
the United States of
20. See Arthur Hughes. Connecticut Place Names. (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society. 1976). Also: Edmund Burke Thompson. Maps of Connecticut before the year 1800: a descriptive list. (Windham (Connecticut): Hawthorn House, 1940).
See Charlotte Pease Davis, Directory of Massachusetts Place Names: Current,
22. The mental concept of Appalachia as a physiographic mountain system stretching from Alabama to the Gaspe peninsula is relatively new (early 1900s) and has yet to impose itself universally. See David S. Walls, "On the Naming of Appalachia," in An Appalachian Symposium: Essays Written in Honor of Gratis D. Williams, J.W. Williamson, ed. (Boone, North Carolina: Appalachian State University Press, 1977): 56-76; and Karl B. Raitz and Richard Ulack, Appalachia: A Regional Geography (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984): 9-29.
23. In addition to French, contemporaries imply that Young could conduct scholarly work in Dutch, Latin and Greek. But this is by no means demonstrated or documented. See Renwick K. Caldwell. "The Man Who Named Vermont," Vermont History. 26: 4 (October 1958): 294-300.
For the grammar peculiar to place naming in France, one can consult Charles Rostaing,
Les noms de
25. See the letter "V" in Albert Dauzat, Dictionnaire etymologique des noms de lieux en France. 26 ed. Revue et completee par Charles Rostaing (Paris: Guenegaud, 1978). Also, Ernest Negre, Toponymie generate de la France (Geneve: Librairie Droz, 1990-1991), particularly vol. I: Formations pre-celtiques, celtiques, romanes, for place names formed from veridis.
See Benjamin and Barbara Shearer, State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols, A
Historical Guide (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994): 8, and Illustrated
Dictionary of Place Names. United States and